Authors: Alex T. Kolter
On Galaxy's Edge: Ascendance
By Alex T. Kolter
First published in 2013. V1.004
Copyright © Alex T. Kolter, 2013
Cover design copyright © Alex T. Kolter, 2013
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced without the express written permission of the author.
Alex T. Kolter has asserted his moral right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
-- PART ONE --
A bright blue flash filled the confines of the small room, and Nero, sat dejectedly on the room’s bed, glanced towards the window, grateful for the distraction. A deep rumble soon followed the flash, and with an apologetic look at his mother, he ran towards the window and looked up. Above, a great ship was flying over their house, and the city. He felt the walls of their small house shake slightly, and another bright flash followed the first, as the ship flared its engines and maneuvered its vast bulk. He stood and watched as it descended further, until it was little more than a kilometre above the city, and nearly grazing the tops of the tall skyscrapers that peppered the centre of the city.
“Nero?” his mother called from across the room.
The young boy continued to watch as the ship disappeared behind the tall buildings, and then finally tore himself away from the window. He slumped back down onto the bed, and looked over to his mother, stood holding a glass of water, an amused expression on her face.
“If you ever want to be a deep space pilot, you need to know this stuff, Nero,” she said. “Learning the history of our planet, our galaxy, is useful for whatever you do.”
“But why?” Nero asked, a slight whine in his voice. He had already been listening to his mother lecture him about history for nearly an hour, and he was itching to get outside, to find someone to play with. He didn’t know of any other mothers that liked to teach their kids so much. He was jealous of them.
“You know why Nero, we’ve had this conversation before. Look, if you can just recap what we’ve been going through, I’ll let you go, okay?”
“Okay,” Nero said, a relieved expression crossing his young features. “Um, so there was some big event.”
“Which was?” his mother prompted.
“I thought we didn’t know?” Nero asked. “Just something happened that made everyone leave Earth-that-was?”
“Oh. Well, then they made their way to Dimora.”
“Not quite. Yes, they came to this planet, but that was many centuries later. In the interim, they settled on other planets in the original solar system, after they had abandoned Earth. They seeded those planets, made them suitable life, and then they began to spread throughout the rest of the galaxy, once spaceflight was developed enough. But, as I say, so much of that time has been lost, we only have vague ideas of what happened.”
Nero’s mother, Kata, paused as she surveyed her bored son. Then she sighed, evidently having decided that Nero wasn’t going to learn any more in this session. “Alright, Nero. Obviously you’ve had enough for one day. We’ll finish up tomorrow.”
Nero smiled, stood up, and was already making his way to their door before his mother had stopped speaking.
“If you’re going to go play with Alfie, make sure you find some food on the way back. We’ve run out of protein sticks. Here...” Kata opened up a battered tin on the small kitchen counter, pulled out what money there was in there, and handed the tiny amount to Nero. He took it, and with a faint smile at Kata, pulled the door open and stepped outside.
Nero jumped, arms and legs reaching out in front of him, straining in an effort to reach the adjacent building, and then he landed, feet thumping down on the solid roof, and he sprinted forward. His heart was pumping hard, adrenaline coursing throughout his body, and he glanced behind him, to see his pursuer make the jump as well. Damn.
He looked forward again, and saw, next to the building he was running on, a large crate stood in the alleyway. With a smile, Nero changed direction and ran to the crate, leaping off of the building’s roof and landed on the solid cube. It made a loud bang as his feet made contact, the metal denting slightly in the middle, and then he leapt off onto the ground. He heard his pursuer follow him, the noise echoing in the confines of the alley.
A larger street was ahead of him, and he recognised where he was now. With a grin, he ran onto the street, and turned left, coming up to a building with a brightly coloured sign above the door. Nero didn’t look, but he knew it said ‘Naka Club’. He had visited there a few times when his mother had been out for the night. There was always a fun atmosphere in that place.
As he passed, he was momentarily distracted as the bright coloured lights flickered off. That was a mistake. From his right, out of his line of sight, his pursuer flew at him. He hurtled into Nero’s side, and the two bodies went flying to the ground, a mass of writhing limbs.
“Okay, okay!” Nero shouted, annoyed at himself for getting caught.
“I win, then?” came the voice of his attacker. He stood up, and Nero followed, looking resentfully at the small boy stood grinning next to him.
“This once, I guess,” Nero admitted. “You won’t win the next round, though.”
“Um,” Nero said, his heart still beating quickly. It was starting to get dark, and he knew his mother would get very angry with him if he wasn’t back soon. Last time he’d stayed out after dark, she’d not let him have any food the rest of the day. And he’d been very hungry. “I can’t. I’ll get in trouble. Tomorrow.”
“Alright,” Alfie muttered in response, already turning around to leave. “And I’ll win again.” He ran away before Nero could come up with a response.
Nero almost ran after him, but the thought of his mother’s stern face stopped him. Then he remembered promising that he’d buy some protein sticks for her, on his way home. He started walking down the street, in the opposite direction to Alfie, and began to make his way through a couple of smaller alleys, which he knew to be shortcuts. Thinking about how hungry he was getting, it was a moment before he noticed what was approaching him. Then the distinctive whine of a laser weapon being discharged came from a nearby alley, and Nero froze. He looked to the end of the alley he was in, and saw a man round the corner, and run directly towards him.
The man looked terrified, and Nero’s natural survival instincts kicked in. He saw a couple of large crates discarded to the side of the alley, and hastily ducked down behind them. The scared man came thundering past, breathing heavily, and it seemed like he hadn’t even spotted Nero. He disappeared further down the alley, and then a second set of footsteps could be heard approaching from the same direction the man had come from. The owner of this set of footsteps appeared not to be in as much of a hurry, and as they neared Nero’s position, he heard the whining sound for a second time.
Further up the alley, he heard a faint thump, as of something soft but heavy hitting the ground, and then he saw the owner of the second set of feet walk past his position. He kept quiet and watched as the person passed. From his position behind the person he couldn’t tell much, but the black coat the person had on, and the sturdy black boots, identified them quite clearly as a member of the Nostra, the feared criminal gang. Nero stood up slowly once the person was safely past, and saw them stop over the body of the man they had just killed.
Not wanting to attract the notice of the Nostra, Nero slowly continued on down the alley, not making a sound. He was curious about what the running man had done to attract the Nostra’s attention, though he was more annoyed at the thought of not being able to loot the man’s body. But it was well known that you should never mess with anything that belonged to the Nostra.
He rounded the corner of the alley, and with a glance over his shoulder, stepped out onto one of the wide avenues that bored across the city. Not far away, he could see the nearest of the great metal-and-glass Scrapers looming above the city, stretching skyward like a defiant signal to the city’s population that wasn’t lucky enough to live in it. Nero stared upward as he walked along the street, wondering as he often did just who lived in the great buildings. He had wasted many an hour fantasizing about what it might be like inside one of these mysterious buildings, but he had yet to even meet anyone who had been inside.
It was a moment before he realised he had just passed the alley where he hoped to find some food. He turned around, and headed down the alley. Sure enough, a short way down the alley was a tattered old stall, with a couple of customers gathered around the old alien that ran it. Nero walked up, a smile on his face as he greeted the alien.
“Hello Rulhur,” he said, and looked down at what the alien had to sell. There wasn’t much today.
“Ah! Signore Nero! A pleasure to see you again!”
“You too, Rulhur.”
“More protein sticks?”
“Yeah. I’ve got 17 bonds.” Nero dug in his pocket and pulled out the money his mother had given him earlier.
The alien tutted at the small amount. “Four sticks, that would cover, I’m afraid.”
“I know,” Nero said.
“Tell you what, since I like you, I give you five sticks today.”
“Really? Thanks Rulhur, that’s kind.” Nero handed over the money, and the old alien gave Nero five small protein sticks. They would be enough for a couple of meals. “Hey, have you ever met anyone who’s been in a Scraper?” Nero asked, wondering why he’d never asked the alien before. He had to be at least a century old.
“In the Scrapers? You don’t want to be thinking about that. No one goes in the Scrapers. Those rich folks have them locked up tight. No one in, no one out.”
“It is dangerous, thinking about that world. You should go home.”
Nero sighed. “Okay, see you soon.” He turned, and with a glance at the sky, which was now getting dangerously dark, he left the alien to his stall and headed home. He hoped his mother wouldn’t be too annoyed with him.
Fifteen minutes later, Nero neared his home. Just a single room in size, the house was sandwiched in a row of similar houses, built along the edge of one of the smaller avenues in the city. Smog hung heavily over the row of buildings, a product of the cheap fuel they used for cooking and heating. Still, compared to the people who had no home at all, Nero knew he and his mother had things pretty good.
He walked towards the flimsy metal door of their house, but before he reached it, it started to open. He started to smile, assuming that his mother was coming out to meet him. But, instead of his mother, a tall alien, of a species that he didn’t recognise, emerged from his home. Nero paused on the far side of the street, confused and wary. He watched as the strange alien hobbled off, carrying a small bag with it, slung over what passed for its shoulder.
When the alien had walked off, Nero ran to his house. But as he reached the door, he knew something was wrong. His mother hadn’t shut the door after the stranger had left, and the light was out. Slowly walking into the room, Nero reached over and tried to turn the light on, but it wouldn’t. Looking more closely, he saw that the light had been shattered, rather than turned off. Plastic pieces covered the floor below it, making a crunching sound as he stepped on them.
Using the dim light feebly making its way in through the open door, Nero made his way over to the back of the room. In the corner, he could make out a darker shadow on the floor, where there shouldn’t be any shadow. With the blood draining out of his face, Nero approached, not wanting to believe what his eyes were telling him. And then he reached it, and looked down to see a body lying there, as motionless as anything he had seen.
Uttering a barely perceptible “Mother...” he bent down and touched the body’s face. It was his mother, and she didn’t stir. He collapsed onto the floor, curling up into a ball, holding onto his mother’s motionless arm. She didn’t move. She didn’t breath. He closed his eyes.
Without knowing how long he had spent on the floor, eventually Nero got up. His hands were sticky, and looking down, he could see blood on them, from a knife wound in his mother’s chest. He glanced away, unable to look at her any longer.
He knew that he had to leave his home. Soon word would get out that Kata had been murdered, and others would try to move in. He had seen it happen before, when a girl’s mother, who lived a few houses away, had been killed. The girl had refused to leave, and had stayed there for weeks afterwards, with the smell from her mother’s body slowly pervading the whole neighbourhood. Eventually, some aliens had discovered this. One day, they had barged into the house, thrown the mother’s body out, and torn the head off of the girl when she refused to leave. Nero had heard the crying and the screams, and had seen the head come flying out of the house after all the noises had stopped. Nero stood no chance of defending his home from these people. He had to leave before he was discovered.
He washed his hands, scrubbing hard to get the blood off. Thinking in a detached way, he knew he had to decide what to do with his mother’s body. It felt wrong to simply leave Kata lying there on the floor, defenceless against the world, but it wasn’t possible to bury anyone when the ground was covered with concrete. And he couldn’t wait for the next mass incineration.
Instead, he decided to pull Kata onto her bed. She wasn’t a heavy person, but even so, it was a difficult task for young Nero. He managed to drag her across the room, and carefully, he maneuvered his mother’s limbs onto the bed, heaving the rest of her up after. Tenderly, he straightened out her arms and legs into a more dignified position, and her crumpled clothes, and placed a clean piece of fabric over the wound in her chest to cover it up. He then pulled the grotty covers of the bed up and over, covering her body in its entirety, her head included.
After a few moments stood there, watching over her, he turned around and picked up his small bag, in which he placed his few possessions, and slung it over one shoulder. Without another look at his mother, he walked out of the front door, and away from his childhood.
He awoke to a beam of sunlight falling across his face. It was a blissful moment before he recalled the events of last night, but then everything came crashing back into his mind, and he suddenly sat up. He looked around. The alleyway he had finally collapsed in last night, after walking for hours, still looked deserted. He glanced to his left, and his heart skipped a beat as he saw what looked like a pair of eyes staring at him from around a corner in the alley. He blinked, and when he looked again, the eyes had disappeared. But he was sure he’d seen them. He pulled the knife he’d brought from his small bag, and cautiously got to his feet.